Trude Teige discovers Demmin — How did the Demmin novel come about?
Since the beginning of this journey to have this book translated I have always wondered how Trude had come across my home town Demmin, that little place in the north-east of Germany. How did the Demmin book actually come about? Did Thekla and June really exist? Was Trude ever in Demmin?
In the last years, I have had the opportunity to ask Trude herself exactly these questions several times and took many notes in between. I now want to share this background information to the novel, as I felt it might inspire you just as much as it captivated me.
But we should take a step backwards, because Trude came across Demmin more or less by chance, almost how I found her book in 2018. Nevertheless there is a path to Demmin in her research and in all of this research three people played a big role: Ragnar Ulstein, Anna Deichmann and Antony Beevor.
A very important encounter for Trude was the one with Ragnar Ulstein, a Norwegian journalist and former resistance fighter, who had written several war books. His influence and his recommendation to write about the “Tyskerjentene” resulted in her using this topic in two of her following books. These “Tyskerjentene” are the Norwegian women who had lost their Norwegian citizenship in WW2 and were expelled from society because they had fallen in love with a German soldier.
But back to Ragnar, as one of her biggest sources of research was Ragnar’s archive at the Akershus Fortress Museum in Oslo and the interviews he had stored in it. He had conducted these with many Norwegian “tyskerjentene” and their husbands in Germany. Luckily for Trude nobody had before been interested in these interviews from the 1970´s nor had they ever been evaluated or released.
With huge determination Trude researched the “Tyskerjentene” and was so taken by the history of these women that she should publish her first novel on the subject in 2012. A thriller called “Svik” — or “Betrayal” in English, which was also translated in German and Russian.
None of Trudes books have however been published in English yet. (That we should change in the future though ;)
Through a radio interview after the publication of her book “Svik”, the then 89-year-old Anna Deichmann became aware of Trude and her interest in the “Tyskerjentene” in 2012. She contacted Trude and asked her for a meeting in Nordfjordeid, the place she lived in in the Sogn og Fjordane. district. She wanted to tell Trude about her own story, which turned out to be closely related to this topic.
Trude accepted this invitation and met Anna; the same Anna, who will play an important role in the Demmin novel later.
Anna Deichmann was originally from Vadsø (Finnmark) in the very north of Norway, but moved south and served as a waitress for German officers in a regiment in Storsteinnes in the Balsfjord in Troms. There she met Alfred in 1943, or Fred as she used to call him, a German soldier. Both fell in love and when peace was agreed in 1945, they got married and Anna went with him to Germany.
Looking at this now it all sounds like a wonderful love story. But there is much more to it.
In Anna´s apartment in Nordfjordeid, the wedding picture of Anna and Fred hung on the wall, and Anna had many photo albums with pictures of their life together. She was a good storyteller, she spoke a broad Vadsø dialect, although she had lived in Hanover for almost seventy years.
After a while she got up and disappeared into the bedroom.
When she returned, she held a model ship in her hands.
“Do you see what that is?” She asked.
“Well,” answered Trude, “a warship?”
“It’s the Blücher,” she said, placing her index finger in the center of the ship. “And here, that’s Fred.”
Alfred Deichmann, a German soldier, had come with the Blücher to Norway, the ship that was shot at in Drøbaksundet and sank there. He managed to swim ashore with the last bit of strength he had in his body.
Anna spoke warmly about her husband: “I could not find a better man, no matter where I would travel, he was the one I wanted to be with.”
After Fred´s death in the 1970s Anna remained alone in Germany and decided to return to Norway. Norway was after all still her home.
She had always considered herself a Norwegian, although the Norwegian government had introduced a law in 1945 that resulted in all Norwegian women who, like Anna had married German soldiers, lost their Norwegian citizenship. When Anna married Alfred, her Norwegian passport was thus invalid and she had to apply for an entry visa from the Foreign Office for many years if she wanted to travel to Norway to visit her daughter.
This permission was not always given to her.
Here is an excerpt from the conversation Trude and Anna had, and which influenced Trude strongly:
“The old lady and one of the few surviving “Tyskerjenter”, spoke meticulously about her past in Norway and Germany. She showed Trude photos of her German husband Alfred. She reported how she was forcibly evicted with Alfred from Norway and came to a completely destroyed and bombed Germany. N
ow Anna had returned to Norway after almost 70 years in Germany.
Anna was not ashamed because she had married a German soldier. He was the man she loved, and when she talked about him, Trude could see the 19-year-old Anna in her sparkling eyes. A
nna told Trude that Alfred had come to Norway with the “Blücher”.
“I am such a lucky person. I mean, he survived,” she said, looking at Trude with a smile.
But that smile vanished when she showed Trude the Norwegian passport that had only recently been reissued for her. Only then did Trude see the overwhelming sadness, powerlessness — and also a little bit of bitterness.
“I’m good enough now,” she said, before she asked Trude in the next moment, “What does the word “ “tyskerjente” actually mean? Does that really mean whore?”
“But I’m not a whore,” she said firmly.
These experiences and narrations Trude used later in a fictionally modified manner in her novel “Mormor danset i regnet” the novel about Demmin. Other stories in there come from Ragnar’s interviews and the many books she had read on the subject.
When Trude learnt that Anna had died 3 months after her meeting, she was even more eager to use some of the episodes of Anna’s life in her book.
So, Anna Deichmann became Trude’s inspiration for the novel “Mormor danset i rain” and although the characters in the book are not identical, but only similar to Anna’s life, the Demmin Roman would have probably never been written without her phone call and the meeting they had.
To expand her knowledge on the subject even further, Trude read a variety of books: particularly on the history before and after 1945 in Norway and Germany. Here she was especially interested in Berlin. She rummaged through archives and the internet for all sorts of articles. She tried to find video footage and images to create a lasting impression that went beyond her own imagination.
To expand her knowledge on the subject even further, Trude read a variety of books: particularly on the history before and after 1945 in Norway and Germany. Here she was especially interested in Berlin. She rummaged through archives and the internet for all sorts of articles. She tried to find video footage and images to create a lasting impression in her mind that went beyond her own imagination.
Among the books she studied was also one by Anthony Beevor, a famous English military historian, whose research focus lay in the then widely spread rape of German women by Russian soldiers.
The sheer scale of these rapes at the end of World War II made Trude stop, as she suddenly realised that Anna did not only come to a country that was outwardly destroyed. But, she also arrived at a place in which most of the surviving women were exposed to exactly these violent acts and had to fear these on a daily basis. Violence against women, rape and torture were commonplace in Germany at this time.
One story that made her research into another direction then and that touched her indelibly was about a Norwegian who came to the Russian zone in the last few weeks before the surrender ,when the Soviet Army was arriving in Germany.
Trude’s interest was captured. She wanted to know more about it all and especially the eastern part of Germany, that should later become the GDR. A new research began.
In 2013, she became therefore more and more involved in the history of this part of Germany in and around the end of the war in 1945. While researching the mass rapes by Russian soldiers on German women, and through various detours and hundreds of clicks starting from an English websites she came across the so-called “Tragedy of Demmin”. Never before had she heard of Demmin, let alone its “tragedy”.
It surprised her even more then, how hard it was to find more information on this tragedy . There was hardly anything written in any of the books or on the German websites she was browsing. Through a Youtube video of a witness and a little more internet research she decided to get to the bottom of it all- This seemed after all a tragedy that was deliberately kept secret.
She called German friends, even friends from the Demmin region and asked them what they knew about that time, Demmin.
No one knew of Germany’s biggest mass suicide, which took place within a few days in May 1945 here in Demmin.
The two memorials at the side of the mass grave in Demmin and the long paths in the graveyard.
Trude, realising she could not find more in books and the internet, flew to Berlin, took the train to Demmin and decided to be inspired on the spot. She walked along Demmin’s roads, paced the long alleys of the cemetery which led to the mass grave and visited the then still existing museum. She talked to people in Demmin, found eye witnesses, and brought with her many pictures of the journey.
She knew immediately then that this little place in northeastern Germany, Demmin, which she had not even heard of a few weeks before, was going to be the setting for her next novel. Far too many stories were hidden here, and the people in Norway should know about Demmin and its history.
In Trude’s own words
“The story of what happened there is so brutal and frightening that it’s impossible to understand that these events are not widely known.” I contacted some German acquaintances, including a woman who grew up near Demmin and asked if they know about it. None of them had heard of what was happening shortly before the Germans capitulated. The explanation most gave me was that this history was tabooed by the GDR government — life had to continue after the war under a new regime — a communist state based regime that relied on the victorious political system of the Soviet Union. Much of what actually happened when the Russians came to Demmin had not been talked about for decades — only when the Berlin Wall fell, did some witnesses break the silence. “
The foundation to “Mormor danset i raining”, or in English “Grandma, who danced in the rain” was laid.
The rest is history.
— — — —
Trudes novel “Mormor danset i regnet”, or in English “Grandma, who danced in the rain”, was published in Norway in 2016 in the Aschehoug publishing house. To date, more than 20,000 copies have been sold.
The book became a bestseller here in Norway and touched the readers deeply. It was even nominated for the Norwegian Book Trade Award.
With this page Trude and I hope that this novel can also be made accessible to all people in Demmin and to all German-speaking readers interested in this topic! There was huge interest in Martin Farka’s documentation “Über Leben in Demmin” last year, which also has this dark history as its underlying story. Hundreds of people crowded the cinemas across Germany because this is a topic that still moves many people.
Demmin is and remains a special place.
A book like this can therefore support that this history is not forgotten, while it is also facilitating a different way to look at Demmin and its past and present.
Both of us, Trude and I would therefore be very happy if you, all of you who are here reading this, help us by sharing this story, so that it might get infront of the right eyes, which can in return help us to have this book published in Germany, or even in the US or UK? ;)
Balestrand in Sep 2019.
A summary of the content we have also provided in English.